Fall Topwater Tips with PAA pro and 2012 Neely Henry Champion Fred Roumbanis
By Russ “Bassdozer” Comeau
Fall is time for lots of changes and turbulence in the environment. There are more frequent and more severe storms and weather front passages at this time of year. Fall triggers many species of birds, most saltwater fish such as striped bass and even butterflies (to name a few) that travel hundreds and thousands of miles southward during their incredible fall migrations.
It takes a couple of severe cold fronts to drop the surface water temperature of a lake, causing the surface layer to become colder and therefore denser, so the heavier surface water literally sinks (or turns over) to the bottom of the lake, mixing with the low oxygen layer of cold water that’s been at the bottom of the lake all summer.
PAA pro Fred Roumbanis says, “You will know when a lake turns over by the color of the water. It gets a funny brownish green color. You’ll spot the odd water color, it just looks different and there may not have been any windy days, rain or anything else that could have caused it.”When that happens, Roumbanis usually goes straight to the backs of the pockets on any lake that’s turned over – which seems to work pretty good for him.
“Usually you are going to find the warmest water in the back of the pockets once a lake turns over, so the baitfish migrate there and then the bass follow the bait. That’s especially true of most shad or herring types (except gizzard shad),” says Roumbanis.
The Two Topwater Bites
As lakes are turning over, oxygen spreads across the new surface, re-establishing the food chain there, and the plankton that the baitfish are feeding on pulls the baitfish and bass to the surface.
“When all the bait gets right up on the surface, and then when you have those really cold nights, like a cold front that comes through – at any other time of the year, a cold front can be your worst nightmare and will ruin any fishing you had planned to do; but in fall, a cold front can be your best friend because it can turn on a reaction bite, just the best kind of reaction bite where you can get them on buzzbaits, topwaters such as Ima Skimmer, frogs or the Picasso Shad Walker which mimics an injured baitfish on top,” says Fred.
Roumbanis is one of those guys who would rather toss topwaters all day long, even when he suspects he could be doing better with something else. Steadfastly sticking with topwater many days, however, has helped Roumbanis to notice something very key – that there are two prime topwater periods on fall days – early morning and late afternoon.
Roumbanis says, “If you’re banking on a topwater bite, don’t just think it is an early morning deal in the fall. I’ve noticed that around two o’clock, those topwater fish will turn on again. I think it has a lot to do with that being the time of day when the water heats up again after a cold front the night before, and it gets the plankton going and gets the baitfish back up and active, moving around the surface layer, and that re-ignites the topwater bite.”
As a well-traveled tournament angler, Roumbanis has been able to recognize this all over the country. “It definitely is a fall deal; it happens in the heat of the day, and that’s usually around two o’clock when things get right to get the bigger topwater bites during that last hour of a tournament event or through the end of a practice day.” On slick days, he often relies on the Ima Skimmer topwater bait. Frogs are excellent baits this time of year, and the Picasso Shad Walker is another topwater that Roumbanis uses quite a lot. “The Shad Walker is a phenomenal bait for big bites, and it’s definitely a 2 o’clock on bait,” Fred emphasizes.
Many tournaments have a check-in or ending time around 3 o’clock and Roumbanis says he’ll usually catch most of his tournament fish during that last hour on cold fall days.
He says, “I watched this unfold most recently at the FLW Tour Open on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas (Oct. 11-14, 2012). When I was pre-fishing at Rayburn, I had one of the best topwater bites with the Shad Walker during the passing of a cold front, wind, overcast, from about 2 o’clock to 5 o’clock.”
Understanding that he may not catch many fish until the end of the day kept Roumbanis relaxed all day once the actual competition started. Even though he didn’t have a fish in the livewell until one o’clock one day, the fish indeed turned on again at two o’clock, and he ended up weighing a decent bag caught during that last hour.
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Thank you and good luck fishing!